VRINDA RATHI was a scorer on Mumbai’s maidans, but a chance meeting with New Zealand international umpire Kathy Cross inspired her to step out into the 22 yards.
Janani Narayanan, a software engineer in Chennai, quit her job when the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) invited applications for umpires. A shoulder injury shattered Gayathri Venugopalan’s dream of becoming a professional cricketer, but she continued to be on the centre-square after passing the BCCI’s umpiring exam.
The three pioneers will now officiate on-field in Ranji Trophy matches this season with the Indian board deciding to draft women umpires in the men’s domestic circuit. “Going ahead, women umpires will be getting to do Ranji Trophy games. This is just a start. The BCCI has decided to give them the opportunity in the men’s game, too,” a BCCI official told The Indian Express.
Rathi, Narayanan and Venugopalan will start from Round 2 of the tournament after missing the first leg of games that start next week since they will be officiating in the India-Australia women’s T20I series. The BCCI is expected to come out with an official announcement soon.
Many state associations do draft women to officiate in men’s games locally, apart from women’s cricket. But until now, the BCCI had never given women an opportunity to officiate as on-field umpires in men’s senior tournaments.
Indian board-contracted umpires aren’t allowed to interact with the media but regulars on the circuit say they are aware about the three women who are about to make history.
Mumbai’s Rathi, 32, was a medium pacer and had represented Mumbai University. She was a regular scorer in local matches in Mumbai and in 2010, cleared the BCCI exams for scorers. In 2013, she was the official BCCI scorer for the women’s World Cup, when she came across the New Zealand umpire. She cleared the Mumbai Cricket Association exams and subsequently, the BCCI test.
Narayanan, 36, has never played cricket at a serious level but was always attracted to the game. She had approached the TNCA in 2009 and 2012, asking for an application form to become an umpire — to the surprise of local officials. In 2015, the state association finally changed their rules and perceptions, and she was issued a form. In 2018, after she cleared the BCCI’s Level 2 umpiring exam, Narayanan decided to quit her IT job.
Delhi’s Venugopalan, 43, wanted to become a professional cricketer but a shoulder injury forced her to recalibrate her dream. She gave up her corporate career, cleared the BCCI umpiring exams, and was enrolled as an umpire in 2019.
Rathi and Narayanan have officiated in under-23 boys’ CK Nayudu Trophy games. But this season, they will take the big leap — and women will have the final say in a field full of men.